Whether you a decorated marathoner, or a complete beginner, your running performance, recovery, and fitness levels depend, mostly, on eating the right foods at the right times.
By eating the right foods and drinks at the right times, your body will recover quickly and be able to perform the way you want it to.
Without the proper diet, it matters little how hard or great your running routine is, eventually, your athletic performance will suffer, and most likely start going backward.
That’s why proper nutrition goes hand in hand with logging the miles.
Here is the good news.
In today’s post, dear reader/runner, I’m sharing with you basics of proper runners diet.
My hope is that by the end of this post, you’ll have all the pieces you need to start eating healthier.
So, are you excited? Then here we go.
Disclaimer: Before you go any further, I’d like for the record to clearly state that I’m not a certified nutritionist. While I went to great length to research and review the nutrition guidelines presented here, please consult with a certified nutritionist before you embark on a new diet. This is particularly the case if you’re overweight, under medication, or have any allergies or special needs.
Before we get into the ins and outs of proper runner’s diet, let’s first define what a diet is.
What is a Diet?
So, first things first, what is a diet?
For most people, the word diet conjures up images of short-term weight loss goals and countless food restrictions.
If that’s already you, then this post might help you change your perspective.
Regardless of your eating habits, the term “diet” simply refers to what you eat—the foods and drinks you consume regularly.
Sure, healthy eating promotes positive weight changes and a healthier lifestyle, but the word diet has nothing to do with trying to remain unrealistically thin, instilling strict dietary limitation, or depriving yourself of the foods you enjoy.
In fact, healthy eating involves eating in a such a way that makes you feel great, increases your energy levels, regulates your mood, and improves your overall fitness and health status.
What is Runner’s Diet?
Just as it is important to follow a well-rounded running program that will help you reach peak performance, it is essential to fuel your body well.
First, let’s talk about what runners diet isn’t.
Runners diet is not about weight loss. Eating healthy while running does not mean that you need to start counting your calories or remove entire food groups from your daily eating menu.
Runners diet is all about consuming the right foods at the right times so your body can have all the energy and fuel needed to perform at its best.
In other words, proper runners diet is all about eating to build your energy.
The Right Runner’s Diet
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not postulating that there is such a thing a specialized runner’s diet. There is no such a thing as a universal runners’ diet that works for everyone.
Everyone is different, and often, as a runner, you’ll need various types and amounts of nutrients.
These nutrition needs will depend on your fitness level, training goals, age, personal preferences, physiology, etc.
The Main Building Blocks of A Runners Diet
There is a broad range of nutrients we need, but in general, the main ones, what’s known as macronutrients, can be broken down into three categories: Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
In essence, macronutrients, or macros for shorts, stand for a broad range of chemical compounds that our bodies need in large amounts for optimal functioning (unlike micronutrients, which are needed in small amounts).
These vital compounds are used for energy, growth, and essential bodily functions by organisms.
Carbs are the primary, and preferred, source of energy for the body.
When you consume carbs, your digestive system breaks them down into a form of sugar known as glucose, which, in turn, is converted to energy.
To make the most out of them, eat plenty of complex, unrefined carbohydrates.
Best sources include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.
Just whatever you do, avoid the bad carbs. Most simple and refined carbohydrates undergo heavy processing and have all the nutrients and fiber stripped out of.
Research shows that consuming simple carbs causes rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, fluctuation in energy and moods, and weight gain, research shows.
The primary sources of the simple carbs include pastries, white bread, and sugary drinks.
As a runner, you’ll also need plenty of proteins.
Proteins, as you might already know, are the building blocks of life. Proper amounts of this valuable macronutrient is vital for speeding up recovery and ensuring proper functioning at the cellular level.
As a runner, you should have a greater portion of this vital nutrient, especially after your workouts than any other time of the day.
While the wrong types of fat—mainly the saturated and trans fatty acids—increase the risks of certain diseases, the good fats—mostly the unsaturated—can protect against serious diseases and promote good health, according to research.
Just keep in mind that fats are the most calorie dense of all macronutrients, yielding about nine calories per gram, whereas proteins and carbs contain 4 calories per gram.
In other words, dietary fats provide the largest amount of fuel when burnt.
The Exact Diet Breakdown
As a general rule, a healthy diet should be (1) high in the right carbohydrates, (2) moderate in lean protein and (3) sufficient in healthy fats.
That translates to about 55 to 65 percent of daily calorie intake coming from carbohydrates, 20 to 25 percent from fats, and 15 to 20 percent from proteins.
Of course, these proportions are not written in stone. They depend on many factors, including your fitness level, training intensity, body weight, physiology, and personal preferences.
So, feel free to re-adjust in line with these factors. No suit fits all.
The Tenets of Healthy Eating
Once you have figured your carb-to-protein-to-fat proportions, it’s time to pay attention to the food itself.
The three basic rules for a healthy runner’s diet are:
- Variety, and
Once you master these three aspects of your diet, you’ll be on your way to success.
Balance is the first step toward healthy eating.
Balanced eating is not your typical trendy, yo-yo or crash diet. Instead, it’s the type of eating you should stick to for life.
By following a balanced diet, you’ll ensure that you’re consuming all the essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly and optimally.
As a runner, find the sweet spot between carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, fiber, and minerals in your diet to sustain your training and overall health.
To find balance, get the bulk of your daily calories from these main food groups:
- Fresh vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fresh fruits
- Lean proteins
Keep in mind that one food group does not have all the answers. It cannot provide you with all the nutrients you need.
Your diet could have all the characteristics above, but it might still lack variety, which is the second pillar of healthy, optimal eating. If that’s your case, then you’re missing out, big time.
So, what’s variety all about?
Variety stands for opting for a wide range of foods from each main category every day to ensure a nutritious diet. The more colors, the merrier.
Variety is the spice of life, and is definitely a significant goal and milestone when it comes to eating well.
In fact, most nutrition experts would agree that variety is one of the cornerstones of good quality, well-rounded diet.
In fact, a study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” revealed that, the more varied your food choices, the more likely you’re to get proper amounts of nutrients and fiber.
Also, be sure to opt for a variety of different foods from within the food categories themselves to keep your daily menu interesting and provide you with a wide range of macro-and micronutrients.
Moderation is all about regulating or controlling your daily food intake. It involves making sure not to eat too much or too little of any food or nutrient.
In other words, moderation is really about consuming the right amounts of foods at the right times while meeting your nutritional requirements and maintaining a healthy weight.
Not only that, but moderation also means not going overboard with treats, alcohol, fast food or restaurant meals.
Of course, feel free to enjoy your treats, but do it once in a blue moon since most reward foods tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients and fiber.
In fact, eat too many French fries, pizzas, cakes, and burgers each day, and you’ll have nobody but yourself to blame for the weight gain and the health complications.
Nutrition experts recommend getting at least:
Five servings of grains. Examples of one serving include one slice of bread, one small tortilla, ½ cup of whole-grain cereal or cooked oatmeal, one ounce of raw rice or pasta, one cup of ready-to-eat cereal flakes, and ½ cup of popped popcorn.
Six servings of vegetables (Fresh, frozen, canned and dried). Examples of one serving include one cup of raw leafy greens, ½ cup of cooked peas or beans, and ½ cup of cut-up vegetables.
Five servings of fruits. Examples of one serving include one medium-sized fruit, ½ cup of cut-up fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit.